I stopped off at Cole’s on Monday, my first day back from vacation, and saw my old pal, Rex Carr, looking lonely and forlorn at the end of the bar.
“Hey, Rex!” I said, nudging him to attention. “What’s wrong, did your girlfriend kick you out again?”
“Worse,” said Rex, who considers himself Buffalo’s greatest sports fan. “My God, is there any end to the torture for us Buffalo sports fans?”
“What did I miss, Rex? I’ve only been away a week.”
“What happened?” Rex said, spewing beer over the front of my shirt. “The Sabres got better and the Bills got worse, that’s what happened. The whole plan got flipped over its head.”
“I’m not sure I follow … ”
“The Sabres were supposed to suck again, right?” he said. “The idea was to lose big, get back into the lottery and have a shot at that McDavid kid, a once in generation player. Then Tim Murray goes out and signs five free agents!”
“They might be good!” Rex whined. “Why did there have to be a salary cap floor? Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson can actually score goals. And I agree with your columnist chum Simmons up in Toronto. Why would Josh Gorges want to come here? He’s a character player, a tough guy in his prime.”
“So you’re complaining? I thought you liked Murray as GM.”
“I do,” Rex said. “He’s a no-nonsense guy. But geez, I was ready for a little more suffering. We can’t put all our hopes on the Islanders’ pick. I should have known Murray would screw things up. They could contend for the playoffs. Where’s Darcy when you need him?”
“Touche,” Rex said. “By the way, where’s your sidekick, Bucky? Do me a favor and tell him he’s no Jimmy Fallon.”
“And to make matters worse, the NHL decides to change the lottery rules,” Rex said. “Now we only have a 20 percent chance at the first overall pick, even with the worst record. Now, tell me that’s not a conspiracy against Buffalo.”
“Bad luck, anyway,” I said. “Which brings us to the Bills.”
“Yeah,” Rex said, getting even more agitated, “I know I swore not to get fooled again, but I really thought this would be the year. I figured we could have a top 10 defense and contend despite EJ. Then Kiko goes down with an ACL.”
“They do have depth at linebacker.”
“Come on!” he said. “Fans need to stop rationalizing, saying they can get by without Kiko. The kid played EVERY defensive snap last year! People are dreaming if they think Preston Brown can step right in as a rookie because he looked good in OTAs.”
“I still like over 6 1/2 wins,” Russell the bartender said, placing two fresh beers on the bar.
“Then there’s the Marcell Dareus situation,” I said.
“Yeah, I can’t see the league suspending that goofball for less than four games, not after the drag racing thing,” Rex said.
“Street racing,” I corrected. “Show some respect for the drag racing crowd.”
“Whatever,” Rex said. “All I know is two studs from our defensive front seven will be gone for the first month. Sometimes, I think we are cursed. Come on, Jeanneret has throat cancer? Throat cancer, of all things? That’s just not right.”
“And on top of Jim Kelly,” I sighed. “Well, at least the sale of the Bills is moving along. You have to feel good about that.”
“Really?” Rex said. “I don’t trust these sports leagues. I remember when we were supposed to be the frontrunner for a big-league baseball team. When it came down to it, they went for the big TV markets.”
“But a lot of people want to keep the team in Buffalo.”
“Sure,” he said. “If Pegula can keep it here, I’m all for it, as long as he and his wife let the football people run it. But I worry about unseen threats, people with big bucks lying in the weeds.”
“Anyway, there’s tons of pressure on this bunch to make the playoffs,” I said.
“Whaley put his neck on the line, that’s for sure,” Rex said. “I think Sammy Watkins will be great, but you know I’m not an EJ guy. That was a huge gamble, giving away next year’s No. 1.”
“Well, if they go 6-10 again, they can always blame injuries,” I said.
“It’s always something,” Rex said. “That’s the hardest part about being a fan here. The teams condition you to expect disaster. My worst fears might come true this year and they’ll both be average.”
“Look at the bright side, Rex,” I said. “Dareus hasn’t done anything stupid in over a month.”